Ravens owe 3-0 start to defensive front seven
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — The Ravens have played only three games this season, but it’s safe to conclude that the defensive front seven will have to carry this team in 2016.
Defenses are usually ahead of offenses in the first quarter of the season, and the Ravens’ front seven is young and hungry.
“I think we’re still coming into our own,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We still have a lot of young guys, despite this year being Year 14 for me.”
No one is getting carried away with the front seven because the Ravens have beaten the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars to open the season. The Ravens held Jacksonville to 216 yards of offense Sunday in a 19-17 win, and the Jaguars were just as essential to the victory as the Ravens.
They were missing two starting offensive linemen in left tackle Kelvin Beachum and center Brandon Linder. This league has become so awful that a team like the Ravens can commit three turnovers and still win on the road.
But some things are starting to come together for the Ravens on the defensive line, and their linebackers are doing well without Suggs performing at a Pro Bowl level or fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil playing at all.
With the game on the line, the Ravens held Jacksonville to three points on three series that started inside the Ravens 39-yard line. With 3:06 left in the game, Ravens defensive lineman Brent Urban blocked a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Jason Myers to prevent the Jaguars from grabbing a four-point lead. The Ravens’ Brent Urban (96) blocks a 52-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
Instead, the Ravens went 22 yards in eight plays to set up a 22-yard gamewinning field goal by Justin Tucker.
On Sunday, the Ravens used a five-man rotation on the defensive line with reserves Urban and Michael Pierce mixing in with starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, nose tackle Brandon Williams and the versatile Lawrence Guy. They all can play any position, but Jernigan is the penetrator, the player with the lethal first step.
He had one sack and was credited with knocking down two passes, even though Blake Bortles threw one of those misfired passes into his helmet.
Pierce usually subs in for Williams, but there were times Sunday when the two played alongside each other. On one side, there was the 339-pound Pierce, and on the other, the 340-pound Williams.
The Ravens haven’t had this much quality beef up front since 2000, with Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. No wonder the Jaguars had just 48 yards rushing.
And then there is Guy, who had one sack and one quarterback hurry.
“We used every defensive lineman that was activated today,” Guy said. “We were able to keep everybody fresh, and all of our guys can play as a starter.”
Because of their ability to tie up two blockers, Williams and Pierce have a big effect on the linebackers, especially C.J. Mosley in the middle. After a rough start in the opener against Buffalo, Mosley has played well running sideline to sideline. More importantly, he is better in pass coverage than a year ago, when he played on the weak side and teams isolated quicker receivers against him.
Mosley made a one-handed interception late in the first quarter against Jacksonville. The play showed great athleticism, but what was more impressive was the depth on his drop. He was 27 yards back from the line of scrimmage when he snagged the ball.
Mosley has something to prove. He is running the defense, filling in for departed veteran Daryl Smith, and the Ravens have two new starting linebackers in Zachary Orr and Albert McClellan. McClellan has had opportunities to start before but didn’t hold the position.
Orr played well in the preseason a year ago but seemed to disappear once the regular season started. With McClellan playing well and Za’Darius Smith and Kamalei Correa spelling Suggs at times, the Ravens tired out Jacksonville.
The biggest difference from last year is that the Ravens are getting consistent pressure. Bortles made some plays Sunday because of his scrambling ability, but the Ravens often forced him out of the pocket.
They also didn’t quit. Time and time again, they had to go back onto the field after a turnover by the Ravens offense.
“When we turn it over, we want to get the ball back and give it to our offense again,” Guy said. “That’s Raven football.”
It’s necessary in order for the Ravens to play winning football. Right now, their offense has no rhythm. Flacco is out of sync and can go from setting a team record for completions in the first half to becoming a Bortles facsimile in the second. The Ravens have no running game because they can’t control the line of scrimmage, and they don’t have a dynamic back who can accelerate through holes.
The secondary is still suspect, even though safety Eric Weddle is playing well. The only consistent groups are the kickers and the defensive front.
The front seven carried the Ravens on Sunday, and that’s going to have to be the case for the rest of the year.